A couple weekends ago, one of my adult riders was hand-walking a lesson horse until I came into the ring. When I walked into the ring my student asked me "Why does she (my lesson horse) keep stopping in the middle of the ring while I walk her? She keeps looking to the back of the barn. Why is she doing that?" I told her she was probably listening to the new horse hollering. I was right, but it was SO much more than that.

What this amazing mare kept looking toward was the fearful energy the other horse was exuding. It had nothing to do with the hollering which had ended about 5 minutes before we ever got into the ring. Let me give you perspective, the ring is a very large indoor arena (60 X 230) built for reining. We were on one end and the other horse was down at the opposite end, through a closed door and on the farthest corner of the barn from us. Yet, my horse could still sense the other horse's fear.

The Boogie Man Cometh...

I could tell that something was making my steadfast horse antsy. But I couldn't have anticipated that she would become wide-eyed and grow about 10 inches taller as the other horse entered the ring. I told my student to give me the reins quickly and step far away from us. As soon as that happened, this usually unflappable horse went into a full blown panic because of the new horse in the arena. We're not talking distress, we're talking full flight response.

The other horse in question was not only new to the facility but extremely fearful and skittish. Her owner was relatively new to horses and rather inexperienced. Obviously by seeing the change in one of the most solid horses I know, the new little horse was far

more fearful than I ever imagined.

I decided that the best thing to do was to teach my student how to refocus and regain control of a horse in this type of environment. Sometimes, you have to use an unexpected issue as an opportunity to educate and build a bond between human and horse. In other words, my student needed to learn how to make her horse understand and believe that even IF the boogie man comes into the barn that she was in fact, safe.

The Queen Arrives

I am Queen, hear me roar.

We are safe because I stand, walk and present myself in a way that says 'I fear nothing, you are safe with me.'

We spent the hour working together to help my student how to re-create her persona while working with her horse. We worked on how the leader stands with confidence. How a leader walks,

breathes and what mentally the expectation is inside their head to get there and stay there.

By the end of the hour my student had taken enormous leaps forward in her horse handling skills which further helped her in her riding the following week as she used the same confidence riding that she learned to harness on the ground.

So why is it that we have become disconnected from our 'Inner Queen' (or King)? The hardest thing for us to remember is the power we all carry within us to be leaders.

But it is no wonder that we have a difficult time remembering who we are. How our new way of living in this fast-paced life has made us morph into a lesser version of our true self.

When you walk a dual line at work, at school or at home it causes you to think, speak and act differently. Sometimes even randomly. It makes you vacillate between the multiple roles you play, student vs. teacher; employer vs. employee; parent vs. child. In many cases, the long term effect can cause physical symptoms, such as changes in eating and sleeping habits. Emotional overwhelm, uncertainty and even fear that does not seem to stem from anything in particular.

Although those are more dramatic, long term symptoms, I do believe that we have become less and less in-tune with ourselves and our feelings. This comes in an effort to find 'sanity' in a world that goes at such a fast pace that we can no longer keep up unless we shut down a part of ourselves.

So many of my students come to me frustrated with how difficult it is to ride well. Whether is it jumping, dressage, western they all seem to think that riding is more difficult than it really is.

It breaks my heart to see them struggle against their horse who is only trying to find a momentary reprieve from the constant pulling, banging and smacking. Sad for the rider who is trying so hard to figure out how to balance and ride a movement while fighting their frustration with their horse who they love so much when on the ground. Sad for the horse that is trying to avoid what is so uncomfortable while simultaneously trying to figure out what their rider wants so it can conform.

Whether you ride English or Western - newsflash...it's EXACTLY the same. Whether you ride Competitive Trail, Dressage, Eventing, Jumping, Reining, Western Pleasure (I put them in alphabetical order FYI), ride Gaited horses, Mustangs, Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Warmbloods, it's EXACTLY the same.

I heard you gasp in disgust. I heard you shake your head and tell me "NO IT'S NOT!" with a wave of your finger. You can't ride a gaited horse like a jumper! You can't ride a J-U-M-P-E-R like a dressage horse (that's my favorite).

If you can stop believing that for just a minute and follow along, you would understand the simplicity of riding, in all its' disciplines and in all breeds. Despite our own (minor) physical differences at the end of each day we are all humans and they are all horses.

If you would like to truly find the beauty of each movement with your horse, I ask you to start with focusing on your movement at the walk. Release your hips and let yourself move from your hips with the horse's legs at the walk. Now as overly simple as that sounds, especially for those of you that already can ride a solid sit trot and canter, that should always be your starting point. Usually I make my students drop their stirrups or put them over the front of the saddle if hanging stirrups upset the horse. Before we begin, please make sure that you do this with a loose rein. (We're not attempting to collect your horse so please...hands off the horse's face.)

Every stride that you follow with your hips originates from the back legs of the horse (you are not feeling the horse's back moving, you are feeling the back legs move and you interpret it as the horse's back). Practice finding the flow of the movement. Once you believe you have found that movement consistently, check your upper body that you are not slouching or being sloppy by unintentionally looking at your horse's ears, neck or shoulders. Look forward and have self-carriage in your upper body. Practice slowing your horse's stride with only your seat, making your movements smaller, less active. Practice transition from stop to walk.

Whatever you do, please do not (ask I like to say) 'skootch' your seat forward to get your horse to walk (trying to use your seat to force the movement from the horse by 'pushing' forward with your seat). Use your lower legs to cue the horse to move and be ready for your hips to go with that movement.

You may find that your horse will actually lower its head after a few minutes of your new work. You may also find that if your horse is normally a fast horse, that with practice your horse will slow, lower its head and begin to match the movement of your hips.

Once you have a solid movement with your horse at the walk, focus on how you are moving as you ask (again, lower leg only please) for the trot. Stay with the movement from walk to trot and you will find that you are either jolted from your rhythm or you go with the rhythm. If you are jolted from your rhythm, transition back to walk and begin again. Although new, your horse will pick up on it very quickly.

If you transition from the walk to trot and continue following the movement and finding the rhythm, the transition you just rode should be far superior to your normal trot transition.

This transition work is not some remedial concept for beginners. It is the absolute foundation that brings you to collect with ease, increase competitive speed and accuracy. Transition your horse to gait and all other (somewhat evasive) aspects of your riding. Yet somehow you have been taught to believe that the only way to change your horse is with more hardware, more leather or different shoes. How strange that you've been sitting on the answer the entire time!

I consider myself to be blessed with the students I have. They are all ages and all experience levels. They come from varied backgrounds in riding. Some are fearless and some ride despite the fear. They have one indomitable trait that unites them all. Their heart drives them to a connection with their horse (or horses) that is far deeper than what is currently accepted or sometimes popular in certain disciplines.

I am continually privileged to work with students who have risen above the constant pressure of others' opinions to sell themselves and their horses short on what they can accomplish.

They love and believe in their horses and moreover, themselves. Some rise above fear from riding accidents and return, sometimes decades later to what they truly love.

They believe that they do not need mechanical devices to ride a horse correctly. They do not need to fight the horse or dominate it to ride beautifully. They believe they are not adversaries but instead, two halves of a perfect team. They refuse to 'upgrade' to a new horse instead of finding a way to learn what eludes them with their current horse.

Now we discuss what most often brings people to question their beliefs and many times give in to the use of mechanical devices instead of learning better mechanics. That enemy is F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-O-N. Frustration of not knowing HOW to overcome an issue and seemingly endless plateaus.

Can you overcome plateaus and frustration by riding a memory? (Read on for your answer.) Through your life, as you ride with your horse(s) you will inevitably become frustrated with yourself and your horse as you progress (and of course frustrated with your instructor and/or trainer that doesn't seem to be able to help you move forward past issues).

Most likely everyone that has ridden with me has wanted to throw a helmet, a boot or other random gear at me in a particularly frustrating moment as I tell you "You're still doing (insert issue here)". Sadly you are trying so hard to move past an issue and you truly do not understand HOW you could still be doing the same thing despite your best efforts.

OK, are you in THAT place emotionally? Agitated and frustrated? Ready to learn how to fix it?

Well first, take a deep breath because you're stressed and your breathing has shallowed, all your muscles have tensed and you're just a big ball of stress on your horse. (Oh, wait a minute, you’re not on your horse right now! You’re at your own computer or mobile device READING.)

Interesting isn’t it? So, if you can turn yourself into a knot with a frustrating memory, can you find the solution in a different memory? The answer to both this question and the question above “Can you overcome plateaus and frustration by riding a memory?” is a resounding YES! Isn’t that great news?!

Oh wait, I can already hear some of you saying ‘OK Deb, that’s great but I’m trying to do something I haven’t done before! How do you remember something that hasn’t happened yet?’ Ahh, very good question, I’m glad you asked. :) The explanation is coming shortly.

Let’s first talk about your memories. A perfect example I'll use is one of my students who has a difficult time getting one of my lesson horses to jog a true jog for more than a few strides. (Background: the mare is well trained in Western Pleasure and can make you drool with envy at the jog she can produce. When you watch her jog it looks as if you are riding her without having to make an effort at it…that is NOT the case. She makes everyone work for what they get.) Bystanders can literally watch the roller-coaster of emotions my student goes through as she accomplishes a beautiful jog and then shortly thereafter the disappointment as it all falls apart.

I can tell her to change her hips, legs, and upper body, whatever you could think of. All will fail. However, if I tell her to remember how it feels to ride another specific lesson horse at the jog, all of a sudden the memory takes hold. Her body morphs to match the memory and just like the wave of a magic wand, a beautiful jog manifests. If she stays ‘in’ the memory, she will ride this little mare around and around without a break in speed or frame. Then she becomes self-aware of her movements and can reproduce it easier every time she transitions to the jog.

Now the answer to your brilliant question above: how do you remember something that hasn't happened yet?

The answer is: You ride someone else’s memories. Do you realize that every time we work together, you are riding my memories? Every time I tell you ‘it feels like…', it is my memory, my interpretation of my past experiences as a teacher, a student and a rider. But you must still find that feeling in your own memory to create a new reality, a new level of connection between you and your horse.

Your homework is to work on your memories. Especially if you are in the middle of a total flop of a ride! Find a place to stop your horse for a minute. Take a breath. Close your eyes and remember a time you executed something perfectly with your horse or on another horse. You will feel the tension melt away, you will feel a change in your body and you will know the answer to the conundrum. Then you will move out again and ride that memory perfectly.

If you'd like to schedule a private session with me, please email me at deb@debbrosnan.com or leave me a VM at 978-496-8773.

It's more than repetition, luck or the perfect horse. You must remember the 'perfect memory'.

Phone #: 978-496-8773      Email: deb@wholisticriding.com

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